Some readers may remember that four years ago in Paros a new society was launched to help bring more awareness to the campaign to return the Parthenon Sculptures to their original home in Athens. They had been removed by Lord Elgin and are now housed in the Duveen Hall at the British Museum in London. The society was called the Friends of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures. The second aim of the Society was to help with the building of a new museum at the foot of the Acropolis to show all these magnificent pieces, including space for the frieze portraying the Panathenaic procession.
My husband was made Chairman and it was in this capacity that we were invited to London to meet with the Minister of Culture, Professor Venizelos, and attend the launch of the plans of the new museum which were being presented to the press and the general public for the first time.
Coincidentally, Professor Venizelos and Mr Neil MacGregor, the new Director of the British Museum, had met the day before and despite our high hopes that the persistent refusal to negotiate would change with the Directorship, this Meeting proved totally unsuccessful in persuading the Trustees to consider even a short-term loan of some of the more important pieces. Recently a Mori Poll had shown that a large majority of the British people would vote for their return, as would a good percentage of the Labour Party Members of Parliament.
Undeterred, we went to the presentation of the new project, and were absolutely mesmerized by the plans by the award-winning architect Bernard Tschumi and the virtual reality presentation which allowed you to "walk around the exhibits". The design is very unusual and has as its principal feature a glass-encased gallery, designed specifically for the exhibition of the Sculptures of the Parthenon, currently split of course between Athens and London. To quote Professor Venizelos, "The opportunity exists for Britain and the British people to make it possible to reunite the sculptures of the Parthenon for this and subsequent generations. Until such time as they return - the spaces for the metopes, frieze and figures of the pediment will remain void, as a constant reminder of this unfulfilled debt to world heritage". As part of this "British people" we hope to see this restitution happen in some form or other, either by co-ownership with the British Museum or by a permanent or semi-permanent loan in time for the 2004 Olympic Games. Now that the goal of constructing this new Museum for the Acropolis is being realized, and the right environment for the unification of the sculptures is being provided, we have to persevere with the campaign, using every means and argument possible.
The museum itself will not be a traditional building; it is situated at the foot of the Acropolis adjoining the archeological excavations which are from late antiquity and early Byzantium, and these will be incorporated into the design, in that below the base the on-site excavation unfolds below the entrance ramp (which is all glass) and extends under the lobby. The mezzanine floor provides the restaurant with panoramic views of the Acropolis and a multimedia auditorium. There is a floor for temporary exhibitions and finally the top floor with the glass enclosure which forms the Parthenon Gallery which is situated so that when you are in the gallery you see through the glass to the Parthenon and when you are in the Parthenon on the Acropolis you see down through the glass panel to where the Sculptures are displayed.